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Turks protest Israeli volleyball team

Israel's volleyball team players listen to their national anthem before playing against Serbia for a CEV Women's European League tournament match in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, July 24, 2010. Dozens of protesters are scuffling with police near the venue. The game has been closed to spectators. Israel's volleyball team players listen to their national anthem before playing against Serbia for a CEV Women's European League tournament match in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, July 24, 2010. Dozens of protesters are scuffling with police near the venue. The game has been closed to spectators. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
By Christopher Torchia
Associated Press Writer / July 24, 2010

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ANKARA, Turkey—Dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters scuffled with police Saturday near a hall where an Israeli volleyball team played in a game closed to the public because of security concerns.

A relatively tolerant approach to the protests by authorities reflected Turkey's efforts to calibrate public outrage over the May 31 deaths of nine activists aboard a Turkish ship in an aid flotilla bound for Gaza -- even as it maintains ties with Israel, which has been a chief supplier of military aid.

"Don't be dogs of Zionism. God will hold you to account," some demonstrators snarled at police in helmets who pushed them back with shields of reinforced plastic. "Esteemed friends," appealed a police commander with a loudspeaker. "Please don't cause trouble."

Turkey has threatened to cut diplomatic relations unless it gets an apology or an international investigation of the flotilla incident; Israel has refused to apologize and is conducting its own inquiry.

In the meantime, trade and other civilian contacts continue in a sign that both nations are unwilling for now to abandon a strained partnership between two key allies of the West.

The government imposed heavy security on the game, a 0-3 loss for Israel to Serbia in a European Volleyball League women's match, dispatching police to block roads around the venue. Israeli security officials in suits guarded the women, and the Israeli players rode in a bus with tinted windows to the indoor stadium, which was mostly empty save for trainers, staff and their relatives.

Only a few flags were visible in the stands, and they were Israeli. After a while, the supporters folded them neatly and tucked them away.

Police thwarted activists who sent email messages that urged supporters to attend the game in order to protest against Israel, advising them to arrive one by one, hiding Palestinian flags and banners, and then shouting slogans upon entering the hall. One message named the hotel housing the Israeli athletes, who were scheduled to play Turkey for third place on Sunday.

Instead, protesters gathered two blocks from the stadium, some bearing posters with the image of 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, the youngest of the activists killed in the raid by Israeli naval commandos on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship.

"Why kill and come here to play?" said protester Hanif Sinan, a landscape architect.

Israeli authorities have said their forces were attacked upon boarding the ship, and acted in self-defense. An Israeli military report this month praised the commandos, but cited flaws in intelligence-gathering and planning, with security officials underestimating the potential for violence.

Hakan Albayrak, a columnist for Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper who was a passenger on the Mavi Marmara during the raid, said it was a pity that more people had not attended the volleyball protest. About 100 milled around, some rapping police shields with the poles of their Palestinian flags and lobbing water bottles at security forces.

"These players are guests of our government," Albayrak said. "We cannot harm any Israeli in our country, but we have the right to protest."

The Israeli coach, Arie Selinger, coached the U.S. women's volleyball team to a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and the Dutch men's team to silver at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He said the loss Saturday was a "good experience" for his team.

Then he thanked Turkish authorities, alluding with the hint of a smile to the tight security measures.

"We know that we caused a lot of trouble," he said.

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